Berrow Dunes Local Nature Reserve (LNR) lies within the much larger Berrow Dunes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It borders the Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve which was designated under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland habitat of international importance and special protection area.
The sand dune systems as found within the LNR are rare, both on a national and local scale and contain a wide variety of coastal habitats which support a diverse range of flora and fauna.
Berrow Dunes supports one of the most diverse floras in Somerset, with at least 270 species of flowering plant being recorded on this site. The local nature reserve is also one of the best sites for moths and recently 3 rare species were recorded including the Pinion Spotted Pug Moth last recorded in Somerset in 1868.
In 1992, Somerset Council entered into a management agreement with English Nature, to secure further protection and restoration of the dune system within the Council’s ownership. This part of the dunes was subsequently designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1993 and conservation works continue to take place.
The Reserve is actively managed by Somerset Council, English Nature and Berrow Conservation Group, to provide an attractive area for people to visit and to maintain and enhance its important habitats.
Educational resource for local schools and interested groups
The LNR also fulfils an important role in providing an educational resource for local schools and other interested groups. A ‘Resource Pack For Schools‘ has been designed for use by primary schools and is targeted at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. It includes background information for teachers and activities which can be undertaken in the field, or back in the classroom after a visit to the Reserve. The activities relate to several subject areas, including mathematics, science, geography, art, music and dance.
For further details about the Education Pack, phone 0300 123 2224 to contact the Landscape Officer at Somerset Council.
Management plan for the sand dunes
The partnership, set up in 1992, between Somerset Council and English Nature, has focused primarily on revitalising the ecological interest of the dune habitats. A management plan was drawn up which identified the threats to the different habitats within the Reserve and a programme of remedial work is currently underway.
This work has concentrated on cutting down large quantities of mainly Sea Buckthorn scrub and then treating the stumps with an approved herbicide to limit their regrowth. Since its introduction less than a century ago, the Sea Buckthorn has spread out over about half the reserve, leading to the loss of much of the species-rich grassland habitat.
Scrub clearance has also taken place alongside the footpaths, to widen the paths and prevent “trenches” developing (which can encourage erosion). The footpath routes have been waymarked, in order to direct pedestrians to the beach and to improve public access throughout the Reserve. This work has been undertaken with the help of the Somerset Wildlife Trust and Conservation Volunteers.
The sand dunes are essentially robust, but they are at risk of being damaged by the trampling they receive from the large number of visitors during the summer months. Visitor pressure has dramatically affected the stability of the foredunes, particularly at the northern end, by the access road to the beach. Vehicular traffic has been actively discouraged from the dunes by the wooden bollard barriers along the dune edge. Where erosion has occurred within the foredunes, branches of Sea Buckthorn and other cleared scrub have been placed, to allow sand to accumulate, thus encouraging the processes of dune formation.
The management plan identified that a lowering of the water table had occurred in recent years which led to some of the ponds drying out. A number of ponds have now been excavated, in the hope that water will remain in them all year round.
A car park, situated opposite Sandy Glade Caravan Park, Coast Road, Berrow, is provided for visitors and links to the waymarked footpaths around the Reserve. Alternatively access to the Reserve may be obtained from Berrow Beach.
Public transport by bus, is also available from Burnham-on-Sea and Weston-Super-Mare to Berrow stopping at Heron House, at the southern edge of the Reserve.
Interpretation panels explaining the different habitat types have been installed in the car park and at other places within the Reserve.
At each season of the year, the LNR is different. However, the natural interest will be greatest if you visit this area on a warm, windless day in June or July.
Would all visitors to the Local Nature Reserve please follow the Country Code;
- Guard against all risk
- Keep your dogs under close control
- Clear up dog mess
- Keep to the paths
- Take your litter home
- Do not pick wildflowers
- Horse riders, please keep to the bridleways
All events for the foreseeable future have been cancelled.
For more information about the Volunteer Events, phone 0300 123 2224 for the Landscape Officer at Somerset Council.
For your safety
At low tide, it is not advisable to walk towards the sea. The mudflats can be very soft, the tide comes in very quickly and there are strong, offshore currents. Please read our Beach and water safety page and beach safety leaflet below.
The Dune Slacks, Fixed Dunes, Foredunes and Ponds
The dune slacks
The slacks and swales are sheltered from the wind and salt spray. They are often quite damp and may support temporary or even permanent ponds, because at certain times of the year the water table is not far below the surface. Also, plant and animal remains tend to accumulate in the slacks, which aids water retention. This means that species which cannot tolerate the harsher conditions on the crests of the dunes can become established.
Further inland, the slacks contain species that are common to damp pasture land, including many grasses, vetches, Hairy Hawkbit and Stinking Iris. The pale fleshy flowers of the parasitic Broomrape may be seen in the summer. Many of the plants found here provide food for the larvae of moths. Burnet moths may be seen on Bird’s-foot trefoil and their caterpillars construct their cocoons high up on grass stems where it is difficult for predators to reach them. The orange and black ringed caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth feed on ragwort.
The insect and plant life of the slacks attracts many different birds, such as Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Magpies. Larks nest amongst the grass but are more likely to heard than seen. Many birds such as Linnets, Bramblings and Chaffinches appear in the area during the autumn and winter but nest further north during the summer. The Short-eared Owl preys on the many small mammals found in the dunes.
The fixed dunes
The fixed dune grassland is dominated by Red Fescue Grass and the spikes of small, yellow flowers of Lady’s Bedstraw. A wide range of flowering plants including Restharrow, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and various types of vetches and clovers provide food for may different moths and butterflies. Particularly apparent during the summer months are Common Blue and Meadow Brown butterflies together with Cinnabar and Six-spot Burnet moths. Many animals can be found here, including invertebrates like the Banded Snail.
The fixed dune grassland is rich in low-growing herbaceous plants and grasses because the low levels of nutrients in the soil prevent many other more aggressive species from growing. The grassland was, in the past, maintained by the grazing of cattle and sheep. This system of management lapsed early in this century and since then no agricultural activity has taken place on the dunes. The absence of grazing has encouraged the development of scrub, except where rabbit grazing is occurring. Rabbits are now the only large grazing animals on the reserve and are vital to the survival of the grassland areas.
One of the major aims of the management of the reserve is to preserve the species diversity within the dune grassland, which has been threatened by the increasing amount of nutrients (especially nitrates) in the soil. The nitrates come from plants like vetches, clovers and Sea Buckthorn which are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, and taller, more aggressive plants begin to grow. This process is being reversed by regular cutting back, clearing and treating the invasive vegetation. Also, the existing grassland is mowed after the plants have flowered and set seed.
The scrub which surrounds the grassland is mainly composed of Sea Buckthorn, with patches of Sallow, Elder and Hawthorn. These bushes offer cover for a variety of birds, including the Blackcap. Cuckoos may be seen in the summer. The female Cuckoo lays her eggs in the nests of many different species, including warblers and pipits.
During the last hundred years or so, a number of alien species have been introduced to the area. The most obvious of these are the Evening Primroses, whose large yellow flowers open at night, providing nectar for visiting moths.
The strandline may slow the wind-blown sand sufficiently so that fast-growing, pioneering plants can start to grow. At Berrow, Lyme grass is amongst the first plants to become established. This tall grass is able to keep pace with the sand that accumulates around it by rapidly growing upward and outward, slowing the sand down and forming a narrow line of low dunes. The sand accumulates even more quickly when Marram grass arrives. Like Lyme grass it forms tussocks and grows rapidly in response to being swamped by sand.
At this stage, the dunes are know as ‘yellow’ or ‘white’ dunes, because of the areas of bare, uncolonised sand. There is little water or nutrient in the dunes and they are unstable, so that only a few other plants can survive, such as Sand Sedge, Sand Couch and Sea Spurge. However, the dunes slowly become enriched by decaying plant material and the droppings from the rabbits which feed here. Mosses and lichens cover the bare ground between the plants – the dunes are sometimes called ‘grey’ dunes at this stage.
Marram and Lyme grass thrive when fresh sand is being added to the dune, but they die out if the supply ceases. This can happen when a new line of dunes forms upwind. The loss of these grasses, or excessive trampling, can leave the dune open to wind erosion, which may be so great that a gap (blowout) is punched through the dune. The sand blown out of the foredunes will accumulate downwind and as long as it is fresh it will be recolonised by Marram grass and the dunes will once again become stable. Conservation work is being carried out to stabilise the parts of the foredunes which are most prone to windblow.
Dune stabilisation can be achieved in a number of ways, but the most cost-effective method is sand fencing. The fences are built across the blow out, at right angles to the prevailing wind. They may be constructed from wooden posts and wire netting or, as will be the case at Berrow, from cut branches of Sea Buckthorn, woven together. Wind speed is reduced by the fence, allowing the sand grains to drop out and build a replacement dune.
Inland, the dunes rise to a height of about 15 metres and the crests are covered in thickets of Sea Buckthorn, Blackthorn and Hawthorn. In summer, the tall, yellow flowers of the Evening Primrose can be seen all over the foredunes.
In recent years, due to a lowering of the water table in the area, these ponds have dried out completely or become dry during the summer months. Investigations have shown that the water table exists at a depth of about half a metre below the surface and a number of ponds have recently been dredged. The ponds are now beginning to re-establish with plants such as the Common Reedmace and Gypsywort.
A rich invertebrate fauna is associated with the wetland habitats with 14 species of dragonfly having been recorded in the area, including the Hairy Dragonfly and the Ruddy Darter. Beetles are also well represented, with many notable species, such as the nationally rare Greater Silver Diving Beetle.
The Sallow bushes growing nearby provide protection and food for many insects, including the larvae of the Buff-tip Moth and the Lackey Moth, whose caterpillars leave a tent of silky threads behind, when they hatch. Many smaller insects, such as Greenfly, find Sallow a suitable food plant and consequently a variety of insect-eating birds can be seen feeding around these bushes. Two nationally rare species of Soldier Fly are also present.